NYFW: Marchesa's Caged Birds Sing on the Runway

Marchesa NYFW - P 2015
AP Images

Marchesa NYFW - P 2015

Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig unveiled feathered confections — and a just-launched footwear collection — for an A-list audience that included Bette Midler, Alyssa Milano, and Bella Thorne.

Georgina Chapman was walking through Marchesa’s design studio one day when she was struck by a flurry of brightly toned fabrics that had randomly been gathered on a worktable. "Seeing all those colors and textures together just made me so happy, and I thought, This is what we have to do, leave them all together," she said Wednesday afternoon.

"We had a lot of fun playing with color this season," agreed Keren Craig, Chapman’s design partner.

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Two hours later, that was supremely evident just a few looks into Marchesa’s spring/summer 2016 presentation at the St. Regis, when Chapman and Craig sent out a strapless ballgown that featured a billowing high-low ballgown skirt crafted of hand-cut tulle petals in a rainbow of pale pastel hues; it was topped by a feathered corset, an overt clue to the theme that drove the collection. "When you’re inspired by birds, that allows you to work with all sorts of beautiful colors," Craig noted.

"And, of course, feathers," Chapman added with a laugh.

It was a most elegant aviary offered up by the duo for Marchesa’s A-list audience, which included Bella Thorne, Christina Hendricks, Julianne Hough, AnnaSophia Robb, Alyssa Milano and Bette Midler, who discovered the label while working on her Divine Intervention tour earlier this year. "I was having a little trouble, and I went to Neiman Marcus and pulled something I loved off the rack, and it was Marchesa," Midler recalled. "It was fantastic, and I wore it 'til it fell off me. It was the first time I ever wore their clothes, and I was enchanted."

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Midler’s sentiment was ultimately an apt description for this latest collection, which felt equal parts enchanted and ethereal. Those billowing skirts, each with a train longer than the one before it, were indeed among the grandest we have seen in a season that has favored ballgowns for evening. Any one of these confections by Chapman and Craig will make a fantastic red-carpet entrance, and yet it was the quieter gowns in which the pair truly shined: A hand-draped Grecian-inspired gown in layers of pale pastel tulle featured feathers placed across the bodice as though they were wings about to take flight, while a sleek black ankle-length gown in silk faille featured ombré-toned pink feathers that peaked above a strapless neckline; each was a subtle take that nicely balanced those other wow moments.

Cocktail dresses and that high-low ballgown skirt, meanwhile, also allowed a prime view of another Marchesa debut: footwear. The Italian-made shoes will arrive in stores in January; priced between $525 and $1,995, the eight inaugural designs take their cue from the latest ready-to-wear theme. 

"Everything ties back to the runway," Craig said, pointing to the cage-like details on corsets likewise inspiring a silver cage boot embellished with crystals, while the laser cuts employed throughout the shoe designs are taken from similarly crafted fabrics seen on the runway. But the overall romanticism of the collection is ultimately what will always move it forward, Chapman said: "Marchesa is a quintessentially feminine brand that has that sort of dream quality, and that is what we’re always thinking about."

And before this new collection had even debuted, it already had the makings of a fan base. As Milano, who shares judging duties with Chapman on Project Runway All Stars, put it while the house lights dimmed, “I cannot wait to see the shoes.”